This story is by Jodi Elderton and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Hey gurl, look what I’ve got!” her friend announced.
Allie already knew what came next. Josh always remembered. She feigned a smile and looked up to see a dozen roses elegantly displayed in a crystal vase.
“I bet they’re from tall, dark, and yummy. Where do you want them?”
“Put them over there please.” She gestured to a corner of her desk. A few other people from the office peered over the partition.
Someone bubbled, “Honey, you’re so lucky. He never forgets. It’s just like clockwork, every year.”
Yeah, every year. Same song. Different verse. More bruises. For a moment, she overlooked the role she was supposed to play then realized her fear was showing. “Okay people. Nothing to see here. We have deadlines you know.”
“Slave driver.” Someone muttered as people returned to their desks.
“I heard that!” Allie retorted.
Her phone buzzed and her heart fluttered.
Hello gorgeous. Hope you enjoy the flowers. Looking forward to our special night. I adore what you’re wearing today. Red IS your color.
She clenched her jaw and tried to take a deep breath. He left a few hours earlier for work while she was still asleep. “Stalker much?” she muttered under her breath.
Allie texted back,
Me too! The flowers are lovely. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. Love you.
She added an emoji blowing kisses for effect.
Right back at you sweetheart, see you tonight!
“Not if I can help it,” she whispered to herself. Time to break tradition. They had been married ten years and she had the scars to prove it. Every year on their anniversary, he added one to remind her who she belonged to. Hell, he might as well put a bar code on me. Tyler will be eleven soon. He wasn’t going to hold losing Tyler over her head again. I don’t care if he’s a high-powered lawyer with lots of connections. Her pep talk was interrupted by a wolf-whistle.
“Hello, sexy! I just had to see you in person. You in that red….so delicious.”
Josh was good-looking to a fault. Perfect physique with a movie star smile that made others turn and gawk. He had the Oscar performance acting ability, too. The only time others saw the blood-sucking monster was in the courtroom and they applauded him for never losing a case. Everyone thought him charming. Even though she knew how horrid he could be, she was drawn to his mahogany eyes that made her heart palpitate. Sometimes she didn’t know if she was frozen in fear or desire. Perhaps, it was a dreadful mix of both. She held his gaze for a moment.
Look away you fool. This is how he gets to you. Picking up a file folder, she made herself stand on wobbly legs that decided to become spaghetti. “Gotta turn this in…”
His arm seized her waist and with one fluid motion, he pulled her in close and whispered in her ear, “Smile darling, your mask is slipping. Can’t wait for later.” He kissed her firmly on the lips and released her. “Happy Anniversary Allie! Glad you like the roses. We’ll celebrate tonight.”
He exited without the usual fanfare of chatting up everyone in the office. Allie waited about a half-hour after he left to make sure he didn’t follow her and headed home.
A year ago, she went to the ER after one of the cuts he made on her body bled too profusely. She told the doctor that Josh had done it. Josh reported she was unstable and her wounds were self-inflicted due to her personality disorder.
“I can get a shrink on the stand to prove you’re unstable. Not fit to be a mother. Don’t do that again,” He always leveraged the threat of losing Ty against her.
Another time, Allie called his bluff and spent a week inpatient after going to the ER. She hoped someone would believe her but he had a wide sphere of influence. Finally, she broke down and told her paramedic brother Mike who vowed to kill him. After much pleading on her part, he relented. A few days ago, he came by the house when Josh was gone.
“Sis, I have an early anniversary gift for you” and pressed a prefilled syringe into her hands. It’s a paralytic. Hit him with this and he drops in two to three minutes tops. Keep out of his reach until then. He won’t be breathing or moving but he can hear everything you say before he’s dead.”
“Holy crap Mike, that’s murder. I couldn’t.” She felt flushed. “Besides, he’s promised things will be different.”
“Please take it as a backup plan. He will kill you one day. You know that, don’t you? And what’s Ty going to do for a mother? There’s no replacing you. Call 911. Tell them he had chest pain. It will look like a heart attack. You guys live so far away the ambulance won’t get here in time.”
Last night, she came home to find Josh taking the door of the master bathroom off the hinges. “What happened?”
“Just planning ahead love. I don’t want anything to come between us when we celebrate.”
He rose to his full height and towered over her. Nausea gripped her stomach. It was the last door in the spacious home that locked. That was her final bastion of defense between her and injury. That’s when she decided to consider Mike’s plan.
Allie glanced at her watch and realized it was time to get ready. She exchanged the skirt for a crimson evening dress with a plunging neckline and lace sleeves. After retrieving the syringe from its hiding place, she went downstairs. Josh hired a private chef for the occasion. The table was stunning, laid out with their best china and crystal. Fragrant roses in sparkling vases filled the room.
The chef appeared from the kitchen. “Dinner is ready and warming in the oven. I have instructions to leave.”
“Thank you. The food smells amazing and the table decor is impressive.”
“You’re quite welcome,” he said and left.
He’s really outdone himself this time. Allie felt a pang of conscience and stuffed the syringe into her dress pocket as she heard the front door open.
“Allie, where are you? I’m famished.”
“In the dining room Josh. Everything is lovely.” Maybe it will be different this time.
He took his jacket off, loosened his tie, and beamed, “You look ravishing. Let’s eat, love.” He pulled out her chair with a flourish. “I’ll serve,” and disappeared in the kitchen.
This is a change. She clung to the hope that this was a promising development and there would be no blood-letting tonight. Her gut contradicted her and she slid one hand into her pocket and grasped the syringe. Still there.
“Fillet mignon, center cut. Your favorite, cooked to perfection,” he announced as he emerged with the meal. He poured the red wine, “Cabernet Sauvignon flown from Napa for you.”
His eyes pierced her soul and she felt her resolve melting despite her underlying apprehension. Dinner seemed to last forever. She still couldn’t relax even after several glasses of wine.
“Now for the coup de gras…dessert,” said Josh. “I know you’re going to enjoy this.”
“The meal was delectable, what’s for dessert?”
The smile disappeared and his façade faded. Beneath it was something primal.
Josh stood up and gently put his hands on her shoulders. “You,” he whispered in her ear as he stroked her face.
Ally stammered and tried not to choke on the rising bile in her esophagus. There had been whispers about his former wives. He was convincing as the grief-stricken widower.
She flailed for a moment as he grabbed a fistful of hair and dragged her up the stairs. Her hand flew out of her pocket to steady herself as the pumps tumbled off her feet with successive thuds.
He lifted her up and flung her on the bed. “We’ve had a great run Baby. You’re the best so far.”
Ally felt a scream rise in her throat that was muffled with his massive hand. Plunging her hand into her pocket, she frantically pulled the cap off the syringe and jammed it into his thigh.
“What the hell? Why did you have to do that?”
He backhanded her and she tumbled onto the floor. She scooted underneath the enormous four-poster bed. Josh grabbed her wrist and started tugging.
“Bitch, I wanted to savor our last moments and now you’ve ruined the surprise.” His voice trailed off. His muscles started twitching and then he was still.
Ally found her voice. “Well, this is my surprise for you. I get to live and your sorry ass won’t be around to hurt me or anyone else. Happy Anniversary darling.”
He lay frozen, unblinking for several more minutes until the color faded from his face. She pulled her phone out from her purse.
“911, what is your emergency?”